Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chapter 3: Onwards, Into the Breach

"Do one thing every day that scares you. Sing. Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. Floss. Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself."
(Baz Luhrmann, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), 1998)

The day that followed was a strange one. I walked into Strathclyde Police HQ on Pitt Street and the desk clerk looked sure I was about to hand myself in. My hair was orange, and I summoned up what personal pride I had left and said I had a meeting with a policeman. This seemed to startle him and he looked around for something (maybe, I thought, his specs so he could examine my atavistic traits) which turned out to be a form I had to fill out to get a visitor's pass.

I filled it out and was seated in the waiting area when the policeman came out.

"Right, Thomson, just get out! We only accept criminals here if they are wearing handcuffs!"

Ha ha ha. Good one. I had a horrible feeling I was going to have to get used to this type of thing. The meeting which followed was a strange one. I couldn't help noticing him continually noticing my noticable orange dome, and it seemed to put him off. Further to this, I was extremely hungover and just wanted out of there. It was the final handover of the project which I had long slaved over and he seemed genuinely pleased with it, if not my aesthetical beauty. I walked out to the sound of the officer's superlatives, scoring a tactical victory over the desk clerk on my way by.

For the rest of that day, my mindset was in a position to laze about, but the weather was good and I fancied an adventure, something to really challenge myself, to see what possibilities were out there. Taking heed of Baz Luhrmann's advice to 'do one thing every day that scares you' (from Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)), I phoned a friend I will only refer to as Shitebag, seeing as that's what he basically is. I relayed to Shitebag my vague plan and, to be fair to him, he came up with the goods. When I say 'goods' I mean a terrible idea. And when I say 'a terrible idea' I mean jumping from a massive waterfall into a less than shallow pool.

The plan was thus: myself, Jamie, his girlfriend and Shitebag would take Shitebag's car up to Lenzie (just North of Glasgow) to meet Shitebag's friend, McPhee (or McFritzel to those who know him), drive into the Campsie Hills, find these waterfalls and gleefully jump off them - nae bother. This is known as tombstoning, and we were very soon about to find out why. We arrived in the Campsie Glen to glorious sights and sounds - not a cloud in the sky, running water, and birds chirping in the trees. As we walked further up the path, however, this was slowly but surely replaced with empty cans, buckfast bottles, cigarette ends and the unmistakable sounds of neds in the distance. We had been beaten to it. These neds, however, were not the usual joyous, happy-go-lucky neds you come to expect when you were brought up in Lanarkshire, but ones who looked genuinely concerned, almost vexed.

I approached the gentlemen with caution and, in that way I always subconsciously do, spoke to them as if I actually was them, lest they be (by my ridiculous logic) unable to understand me:

"Awrite mate."
"You, eh, you been jumping off those waterfalls aye?"
"Aye mate, it's fuckin crazy! Oor mate just goat lifted out ae here by an air amblance. Jumped aff that big wan and fucked it. Broke his back they hink."

This threw me and, by the looks of their now white faces, also threw my fellow compatriots. This was serious now. I had gone in way over my head - not even two days of the Yes Man had passed and already I was being faced with paralysis! But which was better - paralysis of the body, or paralysis of the mind? My sterling logic, which had served me so well in the previous couple of days, told me paralysis of the mind was worse and, as the boys instructed me on where to jump, how to land and how not to break your back, the Yes Man was ready to do something very, very silly.

Ten seconds later, I looked up in agony at the rich blue sky, unable to feel my hands, legs or feet, my life flashing before my eyes. Or, to be ever so slightly more accurate, I splashed down, my shoes (worn on the neds advice) softly hitting the rocks at the bottom of the pool. Nice one. This was easy. How did a guy manage to break his back doing that? I watched Jamie, his girlfriend and McPhee all do the same as me, before the inevitable 10 minutes of convincing Shitebag that it was fine and he wouldn't hurt himself (what a 
shitebag eh?). He made it down ok, after which the two neds came up to us.

"Right, that's yooz done the baby wan."

Oh shit.

We proceeded with caution further down the glen to a waterfall which dwarfed the previous one we had jumped off. Not only that, but you had to jump through overhanging trees to land safely! We listened carefully to the colloquial instructions in a state of utter petrification. Regardless, in keeping with the Yes Vibe, the force was strong (except in Shitebag, who told me to take a run and jump, which was exactly what I was mentally preparing to do).

To use this example, what you will notice throughout this story is a constant battle between heart and mind, something which for myself seems to have always been part of my inner monologue. Do you do the thing that your heart, your gut, your instinct, your very being compels you to do, or do you instead listen to the gods of logic, where doing something on the spur of the moment is to commit the most grievous of sins against your adult mind, which should, at your age, know better.

Of these two opposing schools of thought, I was always a pupil of the latter, preferring instead to let my mind tell what was right and wrong. As previously alluded to, I didn’t take many risks. I was a hardcore pessimist, always looking at the risks of a decision before the rewards. But recent events had seen the tide of the Everlasting War of Within slowly shifting. The Yes Man had given me an oasis of hope in a desert of pessimism. Again, I took solace from Baz Luhrmann:

the race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself’.

And that was it, pure and simple. If we can overcome the over-cautious man within, then can we conquer all? I would be prepared to say yes, I think we could. But, as with most things of this nature, they are easier said than done. I am very conscious here of over-glamourising what, in effect, is just jumping off a waterfall, but the fact is this is just a silly wee example. From my experience (which is all I can go on) it applies to all things, and transcends the gaps between the physical, social, mental and emotional parts of our lives, making just as much sense for jumping out of a plane as it does for telling someone how you truly feel about them. It is about breaking down these boundaries, acting on who you really are, rather than who you think you should be, that 
is the ultimate goal.

I realize that all this sounds a bit patronizing and holier than thou. And I am not saying for a second that if we were to all act in this way that bad things would never result. For then this story would all be about good things, and it is not. Far from it. Shit happens. But consider whether you would rather accidentally step in shit or be forced to eat it. Of course, you would rather accidentally step on it, and you would accept the consequence of which is a shitty shoe. The problem with listening to your head too often (if you are/were a pessimist and introvert like me) is that you get used to, if not feel compelled to, eat shit: to do and say things that aren’t really you. And you know it’s not right, you know your life would be better if you just went for it and jumped or said it or whatever, but you don’t. You listen to your head and not your heart, because you’re scared of the consequences. Because you know that the one thing that can really hurt you when you listen to it is your own heart. But perhaps what you (and certainly I) did not realize is that being true to one’s self carries with it, as well as crippling lows, unimaginable highs. When your heart gets it ‘right’, it is amazing. When it gets it ‘wrong’, you feel like you’ve been shat on, but at least you won’t constantly have the taste of shite in your mouth. The race is with yourself, and deciding whether the lows are worth the highs is the crux. I am perhaps biased towards one side, but this is not meant to be a lecture, kids.

Anyway, to escape from that (oh so terrible) metaphor and slip back into the real world, we were standing atop the waterfall, with a growing feeling we were about to step in some serious shit (sorry, last time). After some deliberation, we went for it (see video here). Looking back at it now, I would never have done it before my epiphany. Having said that, were that the case I would now be remembering the day and wishing that I had just thrown my intuitions out the window and done it. I guess what I am trying to say is that experiencing something, even if you get physically or emotionally hurt, is better than not knowing what it could have felt like.

After a trip back to Glasgow, a China Buffet King with some questionable mousse and a couple of pints, I felt nothing of the hangover I had woken up with. I went to bed that night for the first time in months a happy man, with a new kind of satisfaction - of knowing that I had said yes to the day. And already I could not wait to see what was in store for tomorrow.

IN NEXT WEEK’S CHAPTER: ‘That’ Birthday Weekend.

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